Mum borrows £50 from loan shark for school uniforms and has to pay back £35,000

A mum has told how she repeatedly tried to kill herself after getting into crippling debt with a loan shark – for eight years.

The 44-year-old was driven to despair after borrowing just £50 to buy school uniforms and ending up paying back an estimated £35,000.

The mother of five, known as Becky, felt helpless in the clutches of the ruthless, intimidating lender as the amount she owed kept spiralling out of control.

When she fell behind with payments the lender would send warning texts to her children and threaten her with punishment from a sinister “big man”.

Today Becky tells her agonising story to highlight the dangers of the loan shark menace – and help the 300,000 other households facing the same plight.

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She said: “What I’d say to other people is, ‘Don’t be tempted’. I know it’s hard if you’ve got no money.

“Borrowing may seem like easy cash but it causes misery. Get help.”

Becky first started borrowing when she and her husband were jobless and living on benefits, thinking it was merely a handy short-term fix to their problems.

But even after her husband found work and gave her money for food and clothes she still hid the terrible secret of her debt – because she was handing all the cash straight over to the lender.

She was only rescued from her nightmare when she fell £2,000 in arrears with the family’s rent and the council served an eviction notice.

Her case was passed on to the England Illegal Money Lending Team, a Government-funded investigative unit.

The team warn that families are particularly at risk from unregulated doorstep lenders, who have no qualms about intimidating and threatening customers, as Christmas approaches.

Becky told how the loan shark initially posed as a friend but quickly turned nasty – even waiting outside her post office on child benefit day to grab money.

Becky told the Sunday People: “I didn’t cope well. I tried to take my life a few times. The police came and knocked my door down to save my life.

“I was too scared to tell the police why I did it, I was terrified. I’d been warned not to speak to anyone, not to get help.”

Becky’s nightmare began when her husband lost his job and they moved to a new area of Tees Valley.

The family was struggling for money as they waited for their job seekers
allowance application to be processed.

Like many others, they had no bank account or credit card – and a poor credit rating meant a loan from a reputable high street source was out of the question.

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Becky said: “This woman came round to say hello to introduce herself and welcome us to the area. She seemed nice.

“I was really struggling and couldn’t afford uniforms. She said she could lend me £50, but I’d have to pay back £100.

“I knew I was getting my child benefit next week so I could pay it back. I was desperate and someone was waving the cash in my face. I had the £50 in 15 minutes. It seemed like easy money but I didn’t realise the dangers.”

Becky paid back £100 the next week but quickly borrowed more.

She said: “When Christmas came I borrowed £200. I had to repay £400 and I got behind.

“At first I’d always paid back on time, she said I was one of her good customers. When I couldn’t pay she’d tell me I’d have to answer to ‘the big man’. The first time I was in arrears she added another £150 on top. So you could borrow £50 one week, and owe £100 the next. But if you couldn’t pay it would be £250 in a fortnight, £400 in three weeks.

“The most I ever owed was £1,050. She was taking hundreds a week off me and I had to use foodbanks.

“She knew when benefits day was and would waiting at the post office for me.

“I was handing over the child benefit as soon as I got it, then I’d have to go back to her for more. It was Catch-22.

“She would text me saying, ‘If you don’t pay, the big man is coming’. Then she would text the kids saying, ‘Tell your Mam to get in touch or I’m not going to be able to stop them coming’. She would visit the house demanding money there and then.”

Becky says she twice took an overdose of tablets while in dread of the woman she had first thought of as a friend.

She said: “I was terrified of her and I was so ashamed I’d got myself into this mess. I didn’t even tell my husband how bad it was. I didn’t want him to walk out on me and end the marriage.

“He’d found a job and he’d give me money for food and clothes for the children, but it was all going to her.”

When the truth finally came out Becky was put in touch with the Illegal Money Lending Team. She added: “The first time I spoke to them I was still too scared to tell them everything. I blamed myself for letting it continue that long.”

Becky and her family have been moved to a different area and are safe from the shark, who is now under investigation,

Since its launch in 2004, the team has prosecuted nearly 400 people for illegal money lending and crimes such as blackmail, kidnapping, rape and assault.

It has also written off £75million in illegal debt and helped nearly 30,000 victims. The 50-strong team, based in Birmingham, has a £3.9million a year budget and is funded through a levy on the lending industry. Money recouped from the assets of convicted loan sharks is reinvested in projects for victims.

In one case a £3,550 Citizens Advice grant was used to design a subway mural in Plymouth to advertise the team’s phone number.

Team head Tony Quigley said: “Loan sharks prey on the most vulnerable in our communities and we will prosecute anyone we believe is exploiting borrowers.”

To report a loan shark call the confidential 24-hour hotline on 0300 555 2222.

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